Los Angeles: Kawhi Leonard won an epic duel with James Harden as the San Antonio Spurs downed the Houston Rockets 112-110 in a thrilling NBA battle on Monday.
Leonard and Harden, two of the most in-form players in the league, both finished with identical tallies of 39 points after a pulsating shoot-out between the Texas rivals in San Antonio.
It was Leonard who ultimately settled the contest for San Antonio after Harden’s free throw with 39 seconds left gave the Rockets a 108-107 lead.
A Leonard three-pointer from above the top of the key put the Spurs 110-108 ahead before two more free throws with 14.5 seconds remaining sealed a dramatic win.
The win was an eighth-straight victory for San Antonio, who improved to 49-13, three games behind Western Conference leaders Golden State.
Leonard’s points haul was his 23rd 30-point game of the season. Tony Parker added 19 points while LaMarcus Aldridge had 15 points for the Spurs.
Harden, meanwhile, had 12 assists as well as his 39 points, league-leading 50th double-double of the season. Houston are third in the Western Conference standings at 44-20.
Elsewhere Monday, Golden State tightened their grip on the West with a 119-111 win over the Atlanta Hawks.
The Warriors, who are readjusting following the loss to injury last week of Kevin Durant, looked to veteran Andre Iguodala to provide the spark against the Hawks.
Iguodala, a pivotal figure in the Warriors’ march to the NBA Finals title in 2015, came up with 24 points off the bench to help subdue Atlanta.
“Collectively, as a unit, we try to make up for KD’s presence,” Iguodala said. “Tonight we did a great job of that.”
Iguodala’s performance delighted Warriors coach Steve Kerr.
“I told him it looked like he was 25 out there again,” he said of the 33-year-old.
“Andre has been absolutely phenomenal the last couple of weeks. He just looks so spry out there and young and confident and such a great basketball player.”
Warriors star Stephen Curry backed Iguodala with his own 24-point haul as well as nine assists and four rebounds.
But while Golden State marched on, Eastern Conference rivals Cleveland, the defending NBA Finals champions, had a night to forget at the Quicken Loans Arena.
LeBron James finished with 30 points and Kyrie Irving had 32 points, but it was not enough to stop the Cavaliers from sliding to a 106-98 defeat against the Miami Heat.
The defeat was overshadowed by a cruel injury to new Cavaliers recruit Andrew Bogut, who limped off injured just 58 seconds into his Cleveland career after joining from Philadelphia last Thursday.
Tests later revealed the 32-year-old Australian star had suffered a broken leg.
James later said he feared the worst after hearing the “crack” of a leg break, which could spell the end of Bogut’s season.
“I heard a break,” James told reporters. “As soon as the collision happened, I heard a break. When I went over to him and he said it, I already knew, I heard it crack.”
“How would you think his spirit’s like?” he added. “He played 58 seconds. And have an injury like that to take you out for the rest of the season, possibly, and you really, there’s not much you can say.”
Elsewhere on Monday, the Minnesota Timberwolves’ game with the Portland Trail Blazers saw a rare postponement after unusually warm weather created a build-up of condensation inside the Wolves Target Center home. The condensation made for slippery conditions above the home court — which is based above an ice rink — leaving officials little choice but to postpone the game.
“I want to apologise to our fans, and certainly to the Trail Blazers,” Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau said.
“But certainly, the safety of the players has to come first. It’s unfortunate, but it’s the right thing to do.”